In March, Amazon acknowledged a problem of which many of their customers were already aware. The Echo smart speaker powered by Amazon’s Alexa was breaking out in creepy laughter without any prompt from customers. Amazon tried to suggest that it was user error. But no one was buying that explanation. Amazon eventually tweaked the settings and the problem went away.
Now, a judge is demanding that Amazon turn over recorded messages from a homicide suspect that might have been captured by his Echo smart speaker. Once again, Amazon is saying that the speaker cannot capture audio recordings unless specifically prompted. Since the creepy laughter incident, that explanation may not hold much weight.
Engadget notes that this isn’t the first time there has been such a request.
“Prosecutors are once again hoping that smart speaker data could be the key to securing a murder conviction. A New Hampshire judge has ordered Amazon to provide recordings from an Echo speaker between January 27th, 2017 and January 29th, 2017 (plus info identifying paired smartphones) to aid in investigating a double homicide case. The court decided there was probable cause to believe the speaker might have captured audio of the murders and their aftermath.”
While it is certainly possible that the Echo could have been triggered by accident, it is highly unlikely for that to have happened at just the right time for some damning piece of evidence to have been clearly recorded by a smart speaker. If evidence was obtained, it is highly unlikely it would stand up in court to gain a conviction.
Even with Amazon providing information, the Bates case of 2017 was dismissed because the evidence was not conclusive. Despite these court losses, the push for access to such data seems only to be intensifying.
The government made it clear that iPhone encryption was frowned upon. Because of strong end-to-end encryption, even Apple can’t break into a secured iPhone in most circumstances. Many in law enforcement at all levels are pushing to make it mandatory for companies like Apple to provide them with backdoors so that they can get into encrypted smartphones, much like a TSA key can get into any suitcase.
The Google Home Mini was caught recording everything all the time, then sending it back to Google. This was an error that Google fixed. But it was caught by a user sometime after the product had already started shipping. Just because smart speakers are not supposed to record what is going on in your home, experience tells us that these things sometimes happen anyway.
Tom’s Guide details “How to See and Delete Alexa’s Recordings of You.”